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Like a son but cheaper: harried South Koreans pamper pets instead of having kids

Updated : January 24, 2019 10:10 AM IST

Kang Sung-il buys Sancho, his Pomeranian, a toy every business trip and this Lunar New Year holiday will dress him up in a new $50 suit to visit 'grandma', Kang's mother.

Kang and his wife say children are too expensive and bring too much pressure. Instead they have opted to shower Sancho with love and gifts.

They are not alone. South Korea's pet industry is booming, fuelled by the same factors that have made the country's birth rate, at 1.05 births per woman, the lowest in the world: the high cost of education and housing as well as extremely long working days.

On top of education expenses, an average South Korean household must budget roughly 12.8 years of income to buy a mid-range home, compared to 8.8 years in 2014, data from KB Kookmin Bank shows. Adding to their stress, South Koreans work the third most hours per year among OECD nations, lagging just Mexico and Costa Rica.

The South Korean pet-related industry was worth 2.7 trillion won ($2.4 billion) last year, and that could more than double in size by 2027, according to the Korea Rural Economic Institute.

Pet funeral services are also increasingly popular and the home where Sancho's owner Kang works, now holds more than 10 services a day, compared with 3-5 when it opened two years ago.

In Namyangju, just outside Seoul, Lee Jae-hwan goes for a walk every day carrying an urn with the ashes of his dog Kkotgae, continuing the routine they used to share.

"I've always introduced Kkotgae as my only son, the most loved one in the world," 51-year-old Lee said in a tearful interview at home, next to a ceremonial table with photos, some food and burning incense.

"He never saw the ocean. I wish we had visited together."

Kang Sung-il, a pet funeral manager, and his wife Ham Jin-seon play with their pet dog Sancho at his home in Incheon, South Korea, January 15, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Kang Sung-il, a pet funeral manager, and his wife Ham Jin-seon play with their pet dog Sancho at his home in Incheon, South Korea, January 15, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
A woman looks at pictures of her and her pet dog at a pet studio in Seoul, South Korea, January 17, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
A woman looks at pictures of her and her pet dog at a pet studio in Seoul, South Korea, January 17, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
A photographer takes a photograph of a pet dog at a pet studio in Seoul, South Korea, January 17, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
A photographer takes a photograph of a pet dog at a pet studio in Seoul, South Korea, January 17, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
A woman poses for photographs with her pet dog at a pet studio in Seoul, South Korea, January 17, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
A woman poses for photographs with her pet dog at a pet studio in Seoul, South Korea, January 17, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
A picture of a pet dog decorated with flowers is seen on a tablet at a pet studio in Seoul, South Korea, January 17, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
A picture of a pet dog decorated with flowers is seen on a tablet at a pet studio in Seoul, South Korea, January 17, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Ham Jin-seon dresses her pet dog Sancho at his home in Incheon, South Korea, January 15, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Ham Jin-seon dresses her pet dog Sancho at his home in Incheon, South Korea, January 15, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
A woman cries as she bids the last farewell to her pet dog before its cremation at a pet funeral service company in Gwangju, South Korea, January 16, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
A woman cries as she bids the last farewell to her pet dog before its cremation at a pet funeral service company in Gwangju, South Korea, January 16, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Kang Sung-il, a pet funeral manager, checks urns containing pet's ashes at a pet funeral service company in Gwangju, South Korea, January 16, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Kang Sung-il, a pet funeral manager, checks urns containing pet's ashes at a pet funeral service company in Gwangju, South Korea, January 16, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Kang Sung-il, a pet funeral manager, leads a pet funeral ceremony at a pet funeral service company in Gwangju, South Korea, January 16, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Kang Sung-il, a pet funeral manager, leads a pet funeral ceremony at a pet funeral service company in Gwangju, South Korea, January 16, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
A pet owner leaves a message on top of a coffin containing the body of her dog before its cremation at a pet funeral service company in Gwangju, South Korea, January 16, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
A pet owner leaves a message on top of a coffin containing the body of her dog before its cremation at a pet funeral service company in Gwangju, South Korea, January 16, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Kang Sung-il, a pet funeral manager, dresses the body of a dog in a funeral clothes before its cremation at a pet funeral service company in Gwangju, South Korea, January 16, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Kang Sung-il, a pet funeral manager, dresses the body of a dog in a funeral clothes before its cremation at a pet funeral service company in Gwangju, South Korea, January 16, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Kang Sung-il, a pet funeral manager, and his wife Ham Jin-seon spend time with their pet dog Sancho at his home in Incheon, South Korea, January 15, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Kang Sung-il, a pet funeral manager, and his wife Ham Jin-seon spend time with their pet dog Sancho at his home in Incheon, South Korea, January 15, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Kang Sung-il, a pet funeral manager, and his wife Ham Jin-seon play with their pet dog Sancho at his home in Incheon, South Korea, January 15, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Kang Sung-il, a pet funeral manager, and his wife Ham Jin-seon play with their pet dog Sancho at his home in Incheon, South Korea, January 15, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Lee Jae-hwan's pet dog Kkotgae is seen on his computer screen at his home in Namyangju, South Korea, January 10, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Lee Jae-hwan's pet dog Kkotgae is seen on his computer screen at his home in Namyangju, South Korea, January 10, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Lee Jae-hwan puts pet food on a memorial altar for his pet dog Kkotgae at his home in Namyangju, South Korea, January 10, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Lee Jae-hwan puts pet food on a memorial altar for his pet dog Kkotgae at his home in Namyangju, South Korea, January 10, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Kang Sung-il, a pet funeral manager, feeds water to his pet dog Sancho at his home in Incheon, South Korea, January 15, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Kang Sung-il, a pet funeral manager, feeds water to his pet dog Sancho at his home in Incheon, South Korea, January 15, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Lee Jae-hwan looks out while sitting on a chair which he used to place his pet dog Kkotgae, at his home in Namyangju, South Korea, January 10, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Lee Jae-hwan looks out while sitting on a chair which he used to place his pet dog Kkotgae, at his home in Namyangju, South Korea, January 10, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Lee Jae-hwan sits on a bench with an urn containing the ashes of his pet dog Kkotgae, during a walk near his home in Namyangju, South Korea, January 10, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Lee Jae-hwan sits on a bench with an urn containing the ashes of his pet dog Kkotgae, during a walk near his home in Namyangju, South Korea, January 10, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
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